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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    August 2008

HIKING APACHERIA

Tugging on Red Sleeve

Walking in the footsteps of Apache chief Mangas Coloradas.

Story and photos by Jerry Eagan

Click for extra material related to this story

 


From the Silver City Independent, June 10, 1930:

Red Sleeve, Tutor of Geronimo, To Be Chief Figure in New Novel

Will Levington Comfort Visits Here to Study Places Where Indian Lived

"Silver City is a sanctuary, and it takes a Californian to know it," said Will Levington Comfort, author, to the Independent Wednesday night.

"After strolling around your city I get vibrations of real life here," he added. Mr. Comfort is working on a novel of Indian life in this section, which may appear in the fall. It will be called, Apache. "Red Sleeve (Mangas Coloradas) is one of the most living things I have ever handled as a writer.

"On this trip I wish to fix. . . the character of the country at the old copper mines where Mangas Colorado (sic) lived and Pinos Altos where he was whipped."


A friend recently asked, "How do you find the places you hike?" Read the history, I replied. Once I've got a "target area" in mind, I go. Once there, I ask the spirits of the Apache, Anglos and Hispanics who were there: Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to see? Find? Who are you? Reveal yourself to me. After I explained this process, my friend said, "Well, then, it seems the Spirits lead you." I don't take that lightly, and I feel grateful for those gifts from "them."

View of Mangas Coloradas' homeland from the Big Burro Mountains.

Walking this land the last year has led me to learn about the figure Will Levington Comfort wrote about in his historical novel Apache. Lately, I've walked in ovals that Mangas Coloradas — Spanish for "Red Sleeve" — walked. In the last two years, I've hiked the Big Lues, Burros and Diablo Range Mountains more and more. In so doing, I believe, Mangas has "led me closer" to him.

My ovals are finely crosshatched now, and they're much smaller than his. Jesuit David Steindal Rast calls the phenomenon "centers everywhere, circumferences nowhere." These ovals, in Zen Buddhist terms, have "tathata — suchness — is-ness." The ovals are alive themselves. In its natural state, no lines divide the One Sacred Oval.

Prior to the Spanish, this land was all sacred circles or ovals. I read an anthropology text that posited that right angles signaled a new phase of human development, just as straight lines did before them. Right angles cut the ovals into more "efficient and specialized spaces."

From 1790 to 1863, Mangas Coloradas walked the ovals bounded by the Gila River and parts of the San Francisco and Blue Rivers, the Big and Little Burros, the lower reaches of the Mogollons, the area around Hurley and Santa Rita del Cobre, and as far east as the Mimbres River. Those who encroached on those Apache territories likely paid for their transgressions.

Mangas' ovals had already been diminished by Spanish, then Mexican, then Anglo property boundaries. In his day, few of those lines were marked yet with barbed wire. Mangas and his people, the Coppermine Apaches, were often shot at first, asked questions later, when they crossed those invisible lines.



Four years ago, I read Edwin Sweeney's Cochise: Chiricahua Apache Chief and Mangas Coloradas: Chief of the Chiricahua Apaches. One day last year, a colleague, Andrea Jaquez, asked if I'd like to know more about the place where Sweeney said Mangas Coloradas allegedly lived. On the earliest maps, the Spanish called the place Agua de Santa Lucia. Today, we call it Mangas Springs, and it lies near Hwy. 180 west midway between Silver City and Cliff. Sweeney believes Mangas was born near there. The place has been known as Mangas Creek Ranch, owned by the Metcalfes and Fosters.

As with so many other places of such significance, perennial waters defined the place. Mangas Creek, Agua de Santa Lucia and streams to the east all drain into the Gila River. Sweeney contends Mangas' homeland included Agua de Santa Lucia, but also a canyon the Apache named Teeguna, "Canyon Spreads Out." In all likelihood, that refers to the massive gash on the western side of the Mogollons we now call Greenwood Canyon.

By all accounts, Mangas was a truly giant figure. Many said he stood over six feet, five inches tall, and he may have weighed 225 pounds. His head size, which drove much speculation and an atrocious act, was supposedly huge. He towered physically over many, but he also towered over almost everyone else he met. Mangas cannot be sugar-coated: He was an insightful leader, but also a brutal, relentless murderer.

Over his many years, Mangas led his people endlessly, against the Spanish and Mexicans. He hated Sonorans and was only slightly more tolerant of Chihuahuans. Presidios such as Janos, established by the Spanish to convert, contain, subjugate or kill Apache, were taken over by the Mexicans, who often concluded short-lived truces with Mangas and his people.

Steely-eyed Americans had little patience for truces. Their historical imperative was peripatetic movement. Americans, in their approach to life, approached the Apache like a D10 Caterpillar 'Dozer. They were totally uninterested in accommodating Apache rights.

Apache warriors loved to raid for horses, mules and anything else they wanted. Naively, they felt they could dash in and steal a man's livestock without penalty, as if in a game. Linear American thinkers had no time for such triflings. I think the more Mangas was around Americans, the more he grasped this way of life was dying for Apache. Initially, he had approached the Americans with the hope they would join him in killing Mexicans.

If we're uncertain whether Mangas was really born somewhere near Agua de Santa Lucia, we know certainly where he was killed. That location, too, is one we drive by often, if we're headed south, towards Deming. As you pass a place on mine property, look to the east, where an old, rusted-out sign arches over a gravel road. The bottom land is green with water-fed bosque. A bit farther to the west, the road to Grant County Airport leads west. The place was also named by the Spanish; locally, it's called Apache Tejo. By 1863, when Mangas was murdered at Apache Tejo, there was no more patience left for Mangas or his people.

For their part, how many men, women and children Mangas and his people killed is unknown. Add to that number those wounded and taken captive, and the toll probably still never went above 3,000 over 150 years. Apache likely never numbered more than 10,000 in all groups in Arizona and New Mexico combined.



The one American who knew more about Mangas than anyone else was Dr. Michael Steck, a Pennsylvanian. He was not only the Southern Apache Indian agent, but also, at times, superintendent of all New Mexico's Indian affairs. By 1857, he'd begun to lobby for a reservation that would incorporate the Gila, Mogollon, Coppermine and Mimbres Apaches "on waters of the Gila west of the 109th degree longitude" — an area he hoped "farming, grazing and hunting" could take place.

By 1859, Steck's efforts to stabilize Mangas' Apache had begun to take shape. Captain W. H. Gordon, captain of infantry from Fort Fillmore, near Mesilla, wrote: "I visited Mangus Colorado's [sic] camp located about a mile above the cornfields. Indians are peacefully disposed. I passed down the Gila, through their crops which went on three miles in length and are in fine condition. Mangus invited me to look at his fields and said this was his home and wanted peace."

In late 1859 and early 1860, however, Steck took a temporary leave from New Mexico Territory. His friend and Indian agent, Pinckney Tully, reported that during his absence, miners from Pinos Altos and Santa Rita del Cobre had attacked a Mimbreno encampment along the Mimbres River: "At the outset of the fight, the Indians, believing there must be some mistake, tried to get the Americans to hold fire a moment until reason could be had for this very unexpected attack, but it appears that these men went to kill Indians and did not care much who nor where so as they killed them. Elias, one of the Apache captains, and I believe the best Indian in that tribe, done all he could to get the Americans, to tell them who he was and ask them what they were killing his people for, but he could do nothing. He still kept going to the miners. . . until he was finally shot dead with the three others [Apaches known killed]."



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